Kirklees Council warned as figures reveal 25% of FOI requests are late
Jun 26 2010 by Nick Lavigueur, Huddersfield Daily Examiner
ALMOST a quarter of official information requests to Kirklees Council are responded to late, figures have revealed.
Kirklees Council, like all public bodies, is bound by Freedom of Information (FOI) law.
The legislation was introduced on January 1, 2005 and gives members of the public the right to know facts about public organisations such as the NHS, the police and departments of Government.
Formal FOI requests must be responded to within 20 working days although an extension can be applied for.
But figures released by the council yesterday revealed they missed the deadline for one out of every four requests.
A total of 2,243 FOI requests have been made to the council from the start of the scheme to mid June this year.
But only 1,727 have been replied to within 20 days.
Earlier this week Kirklees Council was reprimanded after The Examiner complained to the Information Commissioner, the FOI governing body, about an overdue request.
The request asking for the number of attacks on pupils and teachers in schools was submitted four months ago but has still not been resolved.
The Commissioner’s office stopped short of issuing a formal warning but said it had reminded the council of its responsibilities under FOI law.
The council has been given 10 days to respond to the original submission.
Another request to Kirklees Council by The Examiner about school dinners is two months overdue and earlier this month an FOI request about how many FOI requests had not been responded to was not even acknowledged by the council.
A Kirklees Council spokeswoman, said: “Every effort is made to respond within the timescales laid down by the legislation but the complex nature of some of these requests can make this difficult.”
Jane Scullion, from the council’s executive management team, denied the council’s FOI team were being overwhelmed.
“These are hard times in the public sector and we try our best to organise the staffing effectively,’’ she said.
“FOI is taken very seriously but that doesn’t mean that some of them won’t slip through the net.
“But it’s not something I’m concerned about. We’re very committed to the transparency required by the FOI act.”
But leader of the Conservative group, Clr Robert Light, said it wasn’t acceptable.
“There’s a clear legal requirement for the council to respond within 20 days,’’ he said. “If they’re not doing so it’s simply not good enough.
“When I was leader of the council I was aware of what was coming in and it certainly wasn’t overwhelming.
“They can be very useful and focus the council on the things it needs to be looking at.
“At the end of the day the council should be making information available to the public.”
Clr Kath Pinnock, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said she backed the legislation but said some requests were very complex and time consuming.
She said: “The more information that people have to make judgements about all sorts of things, not just the council, the better in my view.
“I do know some of the requests are very obscure rather than straightforward information the council holds readily.
“But if it’s stuff the council does have it should be given over very quickly.”